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This year marks the 500th anniversary of the death of Leonardo da Vinci, probably most famous for painting the Mona Lisa and drawing plans for scientific inventions way beyond his time.

Last week, I went to the Derby Museum and Art Gallery to catch the end of an exhibition of some of his drawings from the Royal Collection. It was part of several simultaneous exhibitions around the country showing small collections of his drawings. These drawings are so delicate that they can't be on permanent display as they are very susceptible to light. Derby's exhibition had just 16 small pieces but it didn't stop the room being packed full of people admiring his careful drawings in black and red chalk, pen, pencil and inks, some armed with magnifying glasses to catch every tiny detail.

I have been to the Louvre and seen the Mona Lisa, who I love, but I do have to agree with many others, being herded past her in a crowd is a little anti climatic. However, walking into the small, dimly lit room with da Vinci's delicate drawings lining the walls was much more exciting. I really love seeing sketchbooks. They often tell you a lot more than the final piece - the mistakes and workings out, the studies, annotated notes (which da Vinci wrote left handed in mirror text!) and early versions of ideas.

Each piece was different, some depicting faces of men and women with beautifully detailed hair, galloping horses, fruit, maps, landscapes and strange scenes like a rainstorm of rakes, tools and other belongings (left).

The most interesting had to be the anatomical drawings, detailed studies of the mouth and teeth, muscles in the neck, and the inside of the throat, all drawn from real bodies. I loved how these particular ones were displayed, in a frame with no back, so that you were able to see both sides of a single page from one of his journals.

I had seen this method before when I was lucky enough to see some more of his drawings in 2016 at the Nottingham Castle Art Gallery. We are used to seeing images in frames, so even when you see his less formal sketches or pages framed they look like final pieces of work, but when you get to see both sides of a page, it is almost as good as flicking through the sketchbook yourself and you start to feel like you are seeing something you may not normally get to see, something a little more special.

In 2014, whilst in the Loire Valley I visited Clos Lucé, the chateau where da Vinci lived his final years at the request of Francois I. A few of his drawings were on display here too, and used throughout the grounds of the chateau as hanging displays within the trees.

The Queen owns over 550 drawings by da Vinci making it a huge collection and 200 will be displayed as a whole in the gallery at Buckingham Palace from the 24th May and I think it would be worth a visit!

R x


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